Part 5 out of 7
He hung down his head and let all his muscles go slack, Shikast,
Bamboo, and Who's Who copying his example.
"Better not watch the game," he said. "We aren't playing, and we
shall only take it out of ourselves if we grow anxious. Look at
the ground and pretend it's fly-time."
They did their best, but it was hard advice to follow. The hooves
were drumming and the sticks were rattling all up and down the
ground, and yells of applause from the English troops told that
the Archangels were pressing the Skidars hard. The native soldiers
behind the ponies groaned and grunted, and said things in undertones,
and presently they heard a long-drawn shout and a clatter of hurrahs!
"One to the Archangels," said Shikast, without raising his head.
"Time's nearly up. Oh, my sire and dam!"
"Faiz-Ullah," said The Maltese Cat, "if you don't play to the last
nail in your shoes this time, I'll kick you on the ground before all
the other ponies."
"I'll do my best when my time comes," said the little Arab, sturdily.
The saises looked at each other gravely as they rubbed their ponies'
legs. This was the time when long purses began to tell, and
everybody knew it. Kittiwynk and the others came back, the sweat
dripping over their hooves and their tails telling sad stories.
"They're better than we are," said Shiraz. "I knew how it would be."
"Shut your big head," said The Maltese Cat; "we've one goal to the
"Yes; but it's two Arabs and two country-breds to play now," said
Corks. "Faiz-Ullah, remember!" He spoke in a biting voice.
As Lutyens mounted Grey Dawn he looked at his men, and they did not
look pretty. They were covered with dust and sweat in streaks.
Their yellow boots were almost black, their wrists were red and
lumpy, and their eyes seemed two inches deep in their heads; but
the expression in the eyes was satisfactory.
"Did you take anything at tiffin?" said Lutyens; and the team shook
their heads. They were too dry to talk.
"All right. The Archangels did. They are worse pumped than we are."
"They've got the better ponies," said Powell. "I sha'n't be sorry
when this business is over."
That fifth quarter was a painful one in every way. Faiz-Ullah
played like a little red demon, and The Rabbit seemed to be
everywhere at once, and Benami rode straight at anything and
everything that came in his way; while the umpires on their ponies
wheeled like gulls outside the shifting game. But the Archangels
had the better mounts, - they had kept their racers till late in
the game, - and never allowed the Skidars to play football. They
hit the ball up and down the width of the ground till Benami and
the rest were outpaced. Then they went forward, and time and again
Lutyens and Grey Dawn were just, and only just, able to send the
ball away with a long, spitting backhander. Grey Dawn forgot that
he was an Arab; and turned from grey to blue as he galloped. Indeed,
he forgot too well, for he did not keep his eyes on the ground as
an Arab should, but stuck out his nose and scuttled for the dear
honour of the game. They had watered the ground once or twice
between the quarters, and a careless waterman had emptied the last
of his skinful all in one place near the Skidars' goal. It was
close to the end of the play, and for the tenth time Grey Dawn was
bolting after the ball, when his near hind-foot slipped on the
greasy mud, and he rolled over and over, pitching Lutyens just clear
of the goal-post; and the triumphant Archangels made their goal.
Then "time" was called-two goals all; but Lutyens had to be helped
up, and Grey Dawn rose with his near hind-leg strained somewhere.
"What's the damage?" said Powell, his arm around Lutyens.
"Collar-bone, of course," said Lutyens, between his teeth. It was
the third time he had broken it in two years, and it hurt him.
Powell and the others whistled.
"Game's up," said Hughes.
"Hold on. We've five good minutes yet, and it isn't my right hand.
We 'll stick it out."
"I say," said the Captain of the Archangels, trotting up, "are you
hurt, Lutyens? We'll wait if you care to put in a substitute. I
wish - I mean - the fact is, you fellows deserve this game if any
team does. 'Wish we could give you a man, or some of our ponies -
"You 're awfully good, but we'll play it to a finish, I think."
The Captain of the Archangels stared for a little. "That's not half
bad," he said, and went back to his own side, while Lutyens borrowed
a scarf from one of his native officers and made a sling of it. Then
an Archangel galloped up with a big bath-sponge, and advised Lutyens
to put it under his armpit to ease his shoulder, and between them
they tied up his left arm scientifically; and one of the native
officers leaped forward with four long glasses that fizzed and bubbled.
The team looked at Lutyens piteously, and he nodded. It was the
last quarter, and nothing would matter after that. They drank out the
dark golden drink, and wiped their moustaches, and things looked more
The Maltese Cat had put his nose into the front of Lutyens' shirt
and was trying to say how sorry he was.
"He knows," said Lutyens, proudly. "The beggar knows. I've played
him without a bridle before now - for fun."
"It's no fun now," said Powell. "But we haven't a decent substitute."
"No," said Lutyens. "It's the last quarter, and we've got to make
our goal and win. I'll trust The Cat."
"If you fall this time, you'll suffer a little," said Macnamara.
"I'll trust The Cat," said Lutyens.
"You hear that?" said The Maltese Cat, proudly, to the others.
"It's worth while playing polo for ten years to have that said of
you. Now then, my sons, come along. We'll kick up a little bit,
just to show the Archangels this team haven't suffered."
And, sure enough, as they went on to the ground, The Maltese Cat,
after satisfying himself that Lutyens was home in the saddle,
kicked out three or four times, and Lutyens laughed. The reins
were caught up anyhow in the tips of his strapped left hand, and
he never pretended to rely on them. He knew The Cat would answer
to the least pressure of the leg, and by way of showing off - for
his shoulder hurt him very much - he bent the little fellow in a
close figure-of-eight in and out between the goal-posts. There
was a roar from the native officers and men, who dearly loved a
piece of dugabashi (horse-trick work), as they called it, and the
pipes very quietly and scornfully droned out the first bars of a
common bazaar tune called "Freshly Fresh and Newly New," just as
a warning to the other regiments that the Skidars were fit. All
the natives laughed.
"And now," said The Maltese Cat, as they took their place, "remember
that this is the last quarter, and follow the ball!"
"Don't need to be told," said Who's Who.
"Let me go on. All those people on all four sides will begin to
crowd in - just as they did at Malta. You'll hear people calling
out, and moving forward and being pushed back; and that is going to
make the Archangel ponies very unhappy. But if a ball is struck
to the boundary, you go after it, and let the people get out of
your way. I went over the pole of a four-in-hand once, and picked
a game out of the dust by it. Back me up when I run, and follow
There was a sort of an all-round sound of sympathy and wonder as
the last quarter opened, and then there began exactly what The
Maltese Cat had foreseen. People crowded in close to the boundaries,
and the Archangels' ponies kept looking sideways at the narrowing
space. If you know how a man feels to be cramped at tennis - not
because he wants to run out of the court, but because he likes to
know that he can at a pinch - you will guess how ponies must feel
when they are playing in a box of human beings.
"I'll bend some of those men if I can get away," said Who's Who, as
he rocketed behind the ball; and Bamboo nodded without speaking.
They were playing the last ounce in them, and The Maltese Cat had
left the goal undefended to join them. Lutyens gave him every order
that he could to bring him back, but this was the first time in his
career that the little wise grey had ever played polo on his own
responsibility, and he was going to make the most of it.
"What are you doing here?" said Hughes, as The Cat crossed in front
of him and rode off an Archangel.
"The Cat's in charge - mind the goal!" shouted Lutyens, and bowing
forward hit the ball full, and followed on, forcing the Archangels
towards their own goal.
"No football," said The Maltese Cat. "Keep the ball by the
boundaries and cramp 'em. Play open order, and drive 'em to the
Across and across the ground in big diagonals flew the ball, and
whenever it came to a flying rush and a stroke close to the
boundaries the Archangel ponies moved stiffly. They did not
care to go headlong at a wall of men and carriages, though if
the ground had been open they could have turned on a sixpence.
"Wriggle her up the sides," said The Cat. "Keep her close to the
crowd. They hate the carriages. Shikast, keep her up this side."
Shikast and Powell lay left and right behind the uneasy scuffle of
an open scrimmage, and every time the ball was hit away Shikast
galloped on it at such an angle that Powell was forced to hit it
towards the boundary; and when the crowd had been driven away from
that side, Lutyens would send the ball over to the other, and
Shikast would slide desperately after it till his friends came
down to help. It was billiards, and no football, this time -
billiards in a corner pocket; and the cues were not well chalked.
"If they get us out in the middle of the ground they'll walk away
from us. Dribble her along the sides," cried The Maltese Cat.
So they dribbled all along the boundary, where a pony could not come
on their right-hand side; and the Archangels were furious, and the
umpires had to neglect the game to shout at the people to get back,
and several blundering mounted policemen tried to restore order,
all close to the scrimmage, and the nerves of the Archangels'
ponies stretched and broke like cob-webs.
Five or six times an Archangel hit the ball up into the middle of
the ground, and each time the watchful Shikast gave Powell his
chance to send it back, and after each return, when the dust had
settled, men could see that the Skidars had gained a few yards.
Every now and again there were shouts of "Side! Off side!" from
the spectators; but the teams were too busy to care, and the
umpires had all they could do to keep their maddened ponies clear
of the scuffle.
At last Lutyens missed a short easy stroke, and the Skidars had to
fly back helter-skelter to protect their own goal, Shikast leading.
Powell stopped the ball with a backhander when it was not fifty
yards from the goalposts, and Shikast spun round with a wrench that
nearly hoisted Powell out of his saddle.
"Now's our last chance," said The Cat, wheeling like a cockchafer
on a pin. "We've got to ride it out. Come along."
Lutyens felt the little chap take a deep breath, and, as it were,
crouch under his rider. The ball was hopping towards the right-hand
boundary, an Archangel riding for it with both spurs and a whip;
but neither spur nor whip would make his pony stretch himself as
he neared the crowd. The Maltese Cat glided under his very nose,
picking up his hind legs sharp, for there was not a foot to spare
between his quarters and the other pony's bit. It was as neat an
exhibition as fancy figure-skating. Lutyens hit with all the
strength he had left, but the stick slipped a little in his hand,
and the ball flew off to the left instead of keeping close to the
boundary. Who's Who was far across the ground, thinking hard as
he galloped. He repeated stride for stride The Cat's manoeuvres
with another Archangel pony, nipping the ball away from under his
bridle, and clearing his opponent by half a fraction of an inch,
for Who's Who was clumsy behind. Then he drove away towards the
right as The Maltese Cat came up from the left; and Bamboo held a
middle course exactly between them. The three were making a sort
of Government-broad-arrow-shaped attack; and there was only the
Archangels' back to guard the goal; but immediately behind them
were three Archangels racing all they knew, and mixed up with
them was Powell sending Shikast along on what he felt was their
last hope. It takes a very good man to stand up to the rush of
seven crazy ponies in the last quarters of a Cup game, when men
are riding with their necks for sale, and the ponies are delirious.
The Archangels' back missed his stroke and pulled aside just in
time to let the rush go by. Bamboo and Who's Who shortened
stride to give The Cat room, and Lutyens got the goal with a clean,
smooth, smacking stroke that was heard all over the field. But
there was no stopping the ponies. They poured through the goalposts
in one mixed mob, winners and losers together, for the pace had been
terrific. The Maltese Cat knew by experience what would happen,
and, to save Lutyens, turned to the right with one last effort, that
strained a back-sinew beyond hope of repair. As he did so he heard
the right-hand goalpost crack as a pony cannoned into it - crack,
splinter and fall like a mast. It had been sawed three parts
through in case of accidents, but it upset the pony nevertheless,
and he blundered into another, who blundered into the left-hand
post, and then there was confusion and dust and wood. Bamboo was
lying on the ground, seeing stars; an Archangel pony rolled beside
him, breathless and angry; Shikast had sat down dog-fashion to
avoid falling over the others, and was sliding along on his little
bobtail in a cloud of dust; and Powell was sitting on the ground,
hammering with his stick and trying to cheer. All the others were
shouting at the top of what was left of their voices, and the men
who had been spilt were shouting too. As soon as the people saw
no one was hurt, ten thousand native and English shouted and clapped
and yelled, and before any one could stop them the pipers of the
Skidars broke on to the ground, with all the native officers and
men behind them, and marched up and down, playing a wild Northern
tune called "Zakhme Began," and through the insolent blaring of
the pipes and the high-pitched native yells you could hear the
Archangels' band hammering, "For they are all jolly good fellows,"
and then reproachfully to the losing team, "Ooh, Kafoozalum!
Besides all these things and many more, there was a
Commander-in-chief, and an Inspector-General of Cavalry, and the
principal veterinary officer of all India standing on the top of a
regimental coach, yelling like school-boys; and brigadiers and
colonels and commissioners, and hundreds of pretty ladies joined
the chorus. But The Maltese Cat stood with his head down,
wondering how many legs were left to him; and Lutyens watched the
men and ponies pick themselves out of the wreck of the two
goal-posts, and he patted The Maltese Cat very tenderly.
" I say," said the Captain of the Archangels, spitting a pebble out
of his mouth, "will you take three thousand for that pony - as he
"No thank you. I've an idea he's saved my life," said Lutyens,
getting off and lying down at full length. Both teams were on the
ground too, waving their boots in the air, and coughing and drawing
deep breaths, as the saises ran up to take away the ponies, and an
officious water-carrier sprinkled the players with dirty water till
they sat up.
"My aunt!" said Powell, rubbing his back, and looking at the stumps
of the goal-posts, "That was a game!"
They played it over again, every stroke of it, that night at the
big dinner, when the Free-for-All Cup was filled and passed down
the table, and emptied and filled again, and everybody made most
eloquent speeches. About two in the morning, when there might have
been some singing, a wise little, plain little, grey little head
looked in through the open door.
"Hurrah! Bring him in," said the Archangels; and his sais, who was
very happy indeed, patted The Maltese Cat on the flank, and he limped
in to the blaze of light and the glittering uniforms, looking for
Lutyens. He was used to messes, and men's bedrooms, and places
where ponies are not usually encouraged, and in his youth had jumped
on and off a mess-table for a bet. So he behaved himself very
politely, and ate bread dipped in salt, and was petted all round the
table, moving gingerly; and they drank his health, because he had
done more to win the Cup than any man or horse on the ground.
That was glory and honour enough for the rest of his days, and The
Maltese Cat did not complain much when the veterinary surgeon said
that he would be no good for polo any more. When Lutyens married,
his wife did not allow him to play, so he was forced to be an
umpire; and his pony on these occasions was a flea-bitten grey with
a neat polo-tail, lame all round, but desperately quick on his feet,
and, as everybody knew, Past Pluperfect Prestissimo Player of the
"BREAD UPON THE WATERS"
If you remember my improper friend Brugglesmith, you will also bear
in mind his friend McPhee, Chief Engineer of the Breslau, whose
dingey Brugglesmith tried to steal. His apologies for the
performances of Brugglesmith may one day be told in their proper
place: the tale before us concerns McPhee. He was never a racing
engineer, and took special pride in saying as much before the
Liverpool men; but he had a thirty-two years' knowledge of machinery
and the humours of ships. One side of his face had been wrecked
through the bursting of a pressure-gauge in the days when men knew
less than they do now, and his nose rose grandly out of the wreck,
like a club in a public riot. There were cuts and lumps on his
head, and he would guide your forefinger through his short
iron-grey hair and tell you how he had come by his trade-marks. He
owned all sorts of certificates of extra-competency, and at the
bottom of his cabin chest of drawers, where he kept the photograph
of his wife, were two or three Royal Humane Society medals for
saving lives at sea. Professionally - it was different when crazy
steerage-passengers jumped overboard - professionally, McPhee does
not approve of saving life at sea, and he has often told me that a
new Hell awaits stokers and trimmers who sign for a strong man's
pay and fall sick the second day out. He believes in throwing boots
at fourth and fifth engineers when they wake him up at night with
word that a bearing is redhot, all because a lamp's glare is
reflected red from the twirling metal. He believes that there are
only two poets in the world; one being Robert Burns, of course,
and the other Gerald Massey. When he has time for novels he reads
Wilkie Collins and Charles Reade chiefly the latter - and knows
whole pages of "Very Hard Cash" by heart. In the saloon his table
is next to the captain's, and he drinks only water while his
He was good to me when we first met, because I did not ask questions,
and believed in Charles Reade as a most shamefully neglected author.
Later he approved of my writings to the extent of one pamphlet of
twenty-four pages that I wrote for Holdock, Steiner & Chase, owners
of the line, when they bought some ventilating patent and fitted it
to the cabins of the Breslau, Spandau, and Koltzau. The purser of
the Breslau recommended me to Holdock's secretary for the job; and
Holdock, who is a Wesleyan Methodist, invited me to his house, and
gave me dinner with the governess when the others had finished, and
placed the plans and specifications in my hand, and I wrote the
pamphlet that same afternoon. It was called "Comfort in the Cabin,"
and brought me seven pound ten, cash down - an important sum of
money in those days; and the governess, who was teaching Master
John Holdock his scales, told me that Mrs. Holdock had told her to
keep an eye on me, in case I went away with coats from the hat-rack.
McPhee liked that pamphlet enormously, for it was composed in the
Bouverie-Byzantine style, with baroque and rococo embellishments;
and afterwards he introduced me to Mrs. McPhee, who succeeded Dinah
in my heart; for Dinah was half a world away, and it is wholesome
and antiseptic to love such a woman as Janet McPhee. They lived in
a little twelve-pound house, close to the shipping. When McPhee
was away Mrs. McPhee read the Lloyds column in the papers, and
called on the wives of senior engineers of equal social standing.
Once or twice, too, Mrs. Holdock visited Mrs. McPhee in a brougham
with celluloid fittings, and I have reason to believe that, after
she had played owner's wife long enough, they talked scandal. The
Holdocks lived in an old-fashioned house with a big brick garden
not a mile from the McPhees, for they stayed by their money as their
money stayed by them; and in summer you met their brougham solemnly
junketing by Theydon Bois or Loughton. But I was Mrs. McPhee's
friend, for she allowed me to convoy her westward, sometimes, to
theatres where she sobbed or laughed or shivered with a simple
heart; and she introduced me to a new world of doctors' wives,
captains' wives, and engineers' wives, whose whole talk and thought
centred in and about ships and lines of ships you have never heard
of. There were sailing-ships, with stewards and mahogany and maple
saloons, trading to Australia, taking cargoes of consumptives and
hopeless drunkards for whom a sea-voyage was recommended; there were
frowzy little West African boats, full of rats and cockroaches,
where men died anywhere but in their bunks; there were Brazilian
boats whose cabins could be hired for merchandise, that went out
loaded nearly awash; there were Zanzibar and Mauritius steamers and
wonderful reconstructed boats that plied to the other tide of Borneo.
These were loved and known, for they earned our bread and a little
butter, and we despised the big Atlantic boats, and made fun of the
P. & O. and Orient liners, and swore by our respective owners -
Wesleyan, Baptist, or Presbyterian, as the case might be.
I had only just come back to England when Mrs. McPhee invited me to
dinner at three o'clock in the afternoon, and the notepaper was
almost bridal in its scented creaminess. When I reached the house
I saw that there were new curtains in the window that must have cost
forty-five shillings a pair; and as Mrs. McPhee drew me into the
little marble-papered hall, she looked at me keenly, and cried:
"Have ye not heard? What d' ye think o' the hatrack?"
Now, that hat-rack was oak-thirty shillings, at least. McPhee came
down-stairs with a sober foot - he steps as lightly as a cat, for
all his weight, when he is at sea - and shook hands in a new and
awful manner - a parody of old Holdock's style when he says good-bye
to his skippers. I perceived at once that a legacy had come to him,
but I held my peace, though Mrs. McPhee begged me every thirty
seconds to eat a great deal and say nothing. It was rather a mad
sort of meal, because McPhee and his wife took hold of hands like
little children (they always do after voyages), and nodded and
winked and choked and gurgled, and hardly ate a mouthful.
A female servant came in and waited; though Mrs. McPhee had told me
time and again that she would thank no one to do her housework
while she had her health. But this was a servant with a cap, and
I saw Mrs. McPhee swell and swell under her garance-coloured gown.
There is no small free-board to Janet McPhee, nor is garance any
subdued tint; and with all this unexplained pride and glory in the
air I felt like watching fireworks without knowing the festival.
When the maid had removed the cloth she brought a pineapple that
would have cost half a guinea at that season (only McPhee has his
own way of getting such things, and a Canton china bowl of dried
lichis, and a glass plate of preserved ginger, and a small jar of
sacred and Imperial chow-chow that perfumed the room. McPhee gets
it from a Dutchman in Java, and I think he doctors it with
liqueurs. But the crown of the feast was some Madeira of the kind
you can only come by if you know the wine and the man. A little
maize-wrapped fig of clotted Madeira cigars went with the wine, and
the rest was a pale blue smoky silence; Janet, in her splendour,
smiling on us two, and patting McPhee's hand.
"We'll drink," said McPhee, slowly, rubbing his chin, "to the eternal
damnation o' Holdock, Steiner & Chase."
Of course I answered "Amen," though I had made seven pound ten
shillings out of the firm. McPhee's enemies were mine, and I was
drinking his Madeira.
"Ye've heard nothing?" said Janet. "Not a word, not a whisper?"
"Not a word, nor a whisper. On my word, I have not."
"Tell him, Mac," said she; and that is another proof of Janet's
goodness and wifely love. A smaller woman would have babbled first,
but Janet is five feet nine in her stockings.
"We're rich," said McPhee. I shook hands all round.
"We're damned rich," he added. I shook hands all round a second
"I'll go to sea no more - unless - there's no sayin' - a private
yacht, maybe - wi' a small an' handy auxiliary."
"It's not enough for that," said Janet. "We're fair rich -
well-to-do, but no more. A new gown for church, and one for the
theatre. We'll have it made west."
"How much is it? " I asked.
"Twenty-five thousand pounds." I drew a long breath. "An' I've
been earnin' twenty-five an' twenty pound a month!"
The last words came away with a roar, as though the wide world was
conspiring to beat him down.
"All this time I'm waiting," I said. "I know nothing since last
September. Was it left you?"
They laughed aloud together. "It was left," said McPhee, choking.
" Ou, ay, it was left. That's vara good. Of course it was left.
Janet, d' ye note that? It was left. Now if you'd put that in your
pamphlet it would have been vara jocose. It was left." He slapped
his thigh and roared till the wine quivered in the decanter.
The Scotch are a great people, but they are apt to hang over a joke
too long, particularly when no one can see the point but themselves.
"When I rewrite my pamphlet I'll put it in, McPhee. Only I must
know something more first."
McPhee thought for the length of half a cigar, while Janet caught
my eye and led it round the room to one new thing after another -
the new vine-pattern carpet, the new chiming rustic clock between
the models of the Colombo outrigger-boats, the new inlaid sideboard
with a purple cut-glass flower-stand, the fender of gilt and brass,
and last, the new black-and-gold piano.
"In October o' last year the Board sacked me," began McPhee. "In
October o' last year the Breslau came in for winter overhaul. She'd
been runnin' eight months - two hunder an' forty days - an' I was
three days makin' up my indents, when she went to dry-dock. All
told, mark you, it was this side o' three hunder pound - to be
preceese, two hunder an' eighty-six pound four shillings. There's
not another man could ha' nursed the Breslau for eight months to
that tune. Never again - never again! They may send their boats to
the bottom, for aught I care."
"There's no need," said Janet, softly. "We're done wi' Holdock,
Steiner & Chase."
"It's irritatin', Janet, it's just irritatin'. I ha' been justified
from first to last, as the world knows, but - but I canna forgie 'em.
Ay, wisdom is justified o' her children; an' any other man than me
wad ha' made the indent eight hunder. Hay was our skipper - ye'll
have met him. They shifted him to the Torgau, an' bade me wait for
the Breslau under young Bannister. Ye'll obsairve there'd been a
new election on the Board. I heard the shares were sellin' hither
an' yon, an' the major part of the Board was new to me. The old
Board would ne'er ha' done it. They trusted me. But the new Board
were all for reorganisation. Young Steiner - Steiner's son - the
Jew, was at the bottom of it, an' they did not think it worth their
while to send me word. The first I knew - an' I was Chief Engineer
- was the notice of the line's winter sailin's, and the Breslau
timed for sixteen days between port an' port! Sixteen days, man!
She's a good boat, but eighteen is her summer time, mark you.
Sixteen was sheer flytin', kitin' nonsense, an' so I told young
"We've got to make it,' he said. 'Ye should not ha' sent in a three
hunder pound indent.'
"Do they look for their boats to be run on air?' I said. 'The
"'E'en tell 'em so,' he says. 'I'm a married man, an' my fourth's
on the ways now, she says.'"
"A boy - wi' red hair," Janet put in. Her own hair is the splendid
red-gold that goes with a creamy complexion.
"My word, I was an angry man that day! Forbye I was fond o' the old
Breslau, I looked for a little consideration from the Board after
twenty years' service. There was Board-meetin' on Wednesday, an' I
slept overnight in the engine-room, takin' figures to support my
case. Well, I put it fair and square before them all. 'Gentlemen,'
I said, 'I've run the Breslau eight seasons, an' I believe there's
no fault to find wi' my wark. But if ye haud to this' - I waggled
the advertisement at 'em -'this that I've never heard of it till I
read it at breakfast, I do assure you on my professional reputation,
she can never do it. That is to say, she can for a while, but at
a risk no thinkin' man would run.'
"'What the deil d' ye suppose we pass your indents for?' says old
Holdock. 'Man, we're spendin' money like watter.'
"'I'll leave it in the Board's hands,' I said, 'if two hunder an'
eighty-seven pound is anything beyond right and reason for eight
months.' I might ha' saved my breath, for the Board was new since
the last election, an' there they sat, the damned deevidend-huntin'
ship-chandlers, deaf as the adders o' Scripture.
"'We must keep faith wi' the public,' said young Steiner.
"'Keep faith wi' the Breslau, then,' I said. 'She's served you well,
an' your father before you. She'll need her bottom restiffenin',
an' new bed-plates, an' turnin' out the forward boilers, an'
re-turnin' all three cylinders, an' refacin' all guides, to begin
with. It's a three months' job.'
"'Because one employee is afraid? 'says young Steiner. 'Maybe a
piano in the Chief Engineer's cabin would be more to the point.'
"I crushed my cap in my hands, an' thanked God we'd no bairns an'
a bit put by.
"'Understand, gentlemen,' I said. 'If the Breslau is made a
sixteen-day boat, ye'll find another engineer.'
"'Bannister makes no objection,' said Holdock.
"'I'm speakin' for myself,' I said. 'Bannister has bairns. 'An'
then I lost my temper. 'Ye can run her into Hell an' out again if
ye pay pilotage,' I said, 'but ye run without me.'
"'That's insolence,' said young Steiner.
"'At your pleasure,' I said, turnin' to go.
"'Ye can consider yourself dismissed. We must preserve discipline
among our employees,' said old Holdock, an' he looked round to see
that the Board was with him. They knew nothin' - God forgie 'em -
an' they nodded me out o' the line after twenty years - after twenty
"I went out an' sat down by the hall porter to get my wits again.
I'm thinkin' I swore at the Board. Then auld McRimmon - o'
McNaughten & McRimmon - came, oot o' his office, that's on the same
floor, an' looked at me, proppin' up one eyelid wi' his forefinger.
Ye know they call him the Blind Deevil, forbye he onythin' but blind,
an' no deevil in his dealin's wi' me - McRimmon o' the Black Bird Line.
"'What's here, Mister McPhee? ' said he.
"I was past prayin' for by then. 'A Chief Engineer sacked after
twenty years' service because he'll not risk the Breslau on the new
timin', an' be damned to ye, McRimmon,' I said.
"The auld man sucked in his lips an' whistled. 'AH,' said he, 'the
new timin'. I see!' He doddered into the Board-room I'd just left,
an' the Dandie-dog that is just his blind man's leader stayed wi'
me. That was providential. In a minute he was back again. 'Ye've
cast your bread on the watter, McPhee, an' be damned to you,' he
says. 'Whaur's my dog? My word, is he on your knee? There's more
discernment in a dog than a Jew. What garred ye curse your Board,
McPhee? It's expensive.'
"'They'll pay more for the Breslau,' I said. 'Get off my knee, ye
"'Bearin's hot, eh?' said McRimmon. 'It's thirty year since a man
daur curse me to my face. Time was I'd ha' cast ye doon the
stairway for that.'
"'Forgie's all!' I said. He was wearin' to eighty, as I knew. 'I
was wrong, McRimmon; but when a man's shown the door for doin' his
plain duty he's not always ceevil.'
"'So I hear,' says McRimmon. 'Ha' ye ony objection to a tramp
freighter? It's only fifteen a month, but they say the Blind Deevil
feeds a man better than others. She's my Kite. Come ben. Ye can
thank Dandie, here. I'm no used to thanks. An' noo,' says he, 'what
possessed ye to throw up your berth wi' Holdock?'
"'The new timin',' said I. 'The Breslau will not stand it.'
"'Hoot, oot,' said he. 'Ye might ha' crammed her a little - enough
to show ye were drivin' her - an' brought her in twa days behind.
What's easier than to say ye slowed for bearin's, eh? All my men
do it, and - I believe 'em.'
"'McRimmon,' says I, 'what's her virginity to a lassie?'
"He puckered his dry face an' twisted in his chair. 'The warld an'
a',' says he. 'My God, the vara warld an' a' (But what ha' you or
me to do wi' virginity, this late along?'
"'This,' I said. 'There's just one thing that each one of us in his
trade or profession will not do for ony consideration whatever. If
I run to time I run to time barrio' always the risks o' the high
seas. Less than that, under God, I have not done. More than that,
by God, I will not do! There's no trick o' the trade I'm not
acquaint wi' -'
"'So I've heard,' says McRimmon, dry as a biscuit.
"'But yon matter o' fair rennin"s just my Shekinah, ye'll understand.
I daurna tamper wi' that. Nursing weak engines is fair craftsmanship;
but what the Board ask is cheatin', wi' the risk o' manslaughter
addeetional.' Ye'll note I know my business.
"There was some more talk, an' next week I went aboard the Kite,
twenty-five hunder ton, simple compound, a Black Bird tramp. The
deeper she rode, the better she'd steam. I've snapped as much as
eleven out of her, but eight point three was her fair normal. Good
food forward an' better aft, all indents passed wi'out marginal
remarks, the best coal, new donkeys, and good crews. There was
nothin' the old man would not do, except paint. That was his
deeficulty. Ye could no more draw paint than his last teeth from
him. He'd come down to dock, an' his boats a scandal all along the
watter, an' he'd whine an' cry an' say they looked all he could
desire. Every owner has his non plus ultra, I've obsairved. Paint
was McRimmon's. But you could get round his engines without riskin'
your life, an', for all his blindness, I've seen him reject five
flawed intermediates, one after the other, on a nod from me; an'
his cattle-fittin's were guaranteed for North Atlantic winter
weather. Ye ken what that means? McRimmon an' the Black Bird Line,
God bless him!
"Oh, I forgot to say she would lie down an' fill her forward deck
green, an' snore away into a twenty-knot gale forty-five to the
minute, three an' a half knots an hour, the engines runnin' sweet
an' true as a bairn breathin' in its sleep. Bell was skipper; an'
forbye there's no love lost between crews an' owners, we were fond
o' the auld Blind Deevil an' his dog, an' I'm thinkin' he liked us.
He was worth the windy side o' twa million sterlin', an' no friend
to his own blood-kin. Money's an awfu' thing - overmuch - for a
I'd taken her out twice, there an' back again, when word came o'
the Breslau's breakdown, just as I prophesied. Calder was her
engineer - he's not fit to run a tug down the Solent - and he
fairly lifted the engines off the bed-plates, an' they fell down
in heaps, by what I heard. So she filled from the after
stuffin'-box to the after bulkhead, an' lay star-gazing, with
seventy-nine squealin' passengers in the saloon, till the
Camaralzaman o' Ramsey & Gold's Cartagena line gave her a tow to
the tune o' five thousand seven hunder an' forty pound, wi' costs
in the Admiralty Court. She was helpless, ye'll understand, an' in
no case to meet ony weather. Five thousand seven hunder an' forty
pounds, with costs, an' exclusive o' new engines! They'd ha' done
better to ha' kept me on the old timin'.
"But, even so, the new Board were all for retrenchment. Young
Steiner, the Jew, was at the bottom of it. They sacked men right
an' left, that would not eat the dirt the Board gave 'em. They cut
down repairs; they fed crews wi' leavin's an' scrapin's; and,
reversin', McRimmon's practice, they hid their defeeciencies wi'
paint an' cheap gildin'. Quem Deus vult perrdere prrius dementat,
"In January we went to dry-dock, an' in the next dock lay the Grotkau,
their big freighter that was the Dolabella o' Piegan, Piegan & Walsh's
line in '84 - a Clyde-built iron boat, a flat-bottomed,
pigeon-breasted, under-engined, bull-nosed bitch of a five thousand
ton freighter, that would neither steer, nor steam, nor stop when ye
asked her. Whiles she'd attend to her helm, whiles she'd take charge,
whiles she'd wait to scratch herself, an' whiles she'd buttock into
a dockhead. But Holdock and Steiner had bought her cheap, and
painted her all over like the Hoor o' Babylon, an' we called her the
Hoor for short." (By the way, McPhee kept to that name throughout
the rest of his tale; so you must read accordingly.) "I went to
see young Bannister - he had to take what the Board gave him, an'
he an' Calder were shifted together from the Breslau to this
abortion - an' talkin' to him I went into the dock under her. Her
plates were pitted till the men that were paint, paint, paintin'
her laughed at it. But the warst was at the last. She'd a great
clumsy iron twelve-foot Thresher propeller - Aitcheson designed the
Kites' - and just on the tail o' the shaft, behind the boss, was a
red weepin' crack ye could ha' put a penknife to. Man, it was an
"'When d' ye ship a new tail-shaft?' I said to Bannister.
"He knew what I meant. 'Oh, yon's a superfeecial flaw,' says he,
not lookin' at me.
"'Superfeecial Gehenna!' I said. 'Ye'll not take her oot wi' a
solution o' continuity that like.'
"'They'll putty it up this evening,' he said. 'I'm a married man,
an' - ye used to know the Board.'
"I e'en said what was gied me in that hour. Ye know how a drydock
echoes. I saw young Steiner standin' listenin' above me, an', man,
he used language provocative of a breach o' the peace. I was a spy
and a disgraced employ, an' a corrupter o' young Bannister's morals,
an' he'd prosecute me for libel. He went away when I ran up the
steps - I'd ha' thrown him into the dock if I'd caught him - an'
there I met McRimmon, wi' Dandie pullin' on the chain, guidin' the
auld man among the railway lines.
"'McPhee,' said he, 'ye're no paid to fight Holdock, Steiner, Chase
& Company, Limited, when ye meet. What's wrong between you?'
"'No more than a tail-shaft rotten as a kail-stump. For ony sakes
go an' look, McRimmon. It's a comedietta.'
"'I'm feared o' yon conversational Hebrew,' said he. 'Whaur's the
flaw, an' what like?'
"'A seven-inch crack just behind the boss. There's no power on earth
will fend it just jarrin' off.'
"'That's beyon' my knowledge,' I said.
"'So it is; so it is,' said McRimmon. 'We've all oor leemitations.
Ye're certain it was a crack?'
"'Man, it's a crevasse,' I said, for there were no words to describe
the magnitude of it. 'An' young Bannister's sayin' it's no more
than a superfeecial flaw!'
"'Weell, I tak' it oor business is to mind oor business. If ye've
ony friends aboard her, McPhee, why not bid them to a bit dinner at
"'I was thinkin' o' tea in the cuddy,' I said. 'Engineers o' tramp
freighters cannot afford hotel prices.'
"'Na! na!' says the auld man, whimperin'. 'Not the cuddy. They'll
laugh at my Kite, for she's no plastered with paint like the Hoor.
Bid them to Radley's, McPhee, an' send me the bill. Thank Dandie,
here, man. I'm no used to thanks.' Then he turned him round. (I
was just thinkin' the vara same thing.) 'Mister McPhee,' said he,
'this is not senile dementia.'
"'Preserve 's!' I said, clean jumped oot o' mysel'. 'I was but
thinkin' you're fey, McRimmon.'
"Dod, the auld deevil laughed till he nigh sat down on Dandie.
'Send me the bill,' says he. 'I'm long past champagne, but tell me
how it tastes the morn.'
"Bell and I bid young Bannister and Calder to dinner at Radley's.
They'll have no laughin' an' singin' there, but we took a private
room - like yacht-owners fra' Cowes."
McPhee grinned all over, and lay back to think.
"And then?" said I.
"We were no drunk in ony preceese sense o' the word, but Radley's
showed me the dead men. There were six magnums o' dry champagne an'
maybe a bottle o' whisky."
"Do you mean to tell me that you four got away with a magnum and a
half a piece, besides whisky " I demanded.
McPhee looked down upon me from between his shoulders with toleration.
"Man, we were not settin' down to drink," he said. "They no more
than made us wutty. To be sure, young Bannister laid his head on
the table an' greeted like a bairn, an' Calder was all for callin'
on Steiner at two in the morn an' painting him galley-green; but
they'd been drinkin' the afternoon. Lord, how they twa cursed the
Board, an' the Grotkau, an' the tail-shaft, an' the engines, an' a'!
They didna talk o' superfeecial flaws that night. I mind young
Bannister an' Calder shakin' hands on a bond to be revenged on the
Board at ony reasonable cost this side o' losing their certificates.
Now mark ye how false economy ruins business. The Board fed them
like swine (I have good reason to know it), an' I've obsairved wi'
my ain people that if ye touch his stomach ye wauken the deil in a
Scot. Men will tak' a dredger across the Atlantic if they 're well
fed, an' fetch her somewhere on the broadside o' the Americas; but
bad food's bad service the warld over.
"The bill went to McRimmon, an' he said no more to me till the
week-end, when I was at him for more paint, for we'd heard the Kite
was chartered Liverpool-side. 'Bide whaur ye're put,' said the
Blind Deevil. 'Man, do ye wash in champagne? The Kite's no leavin'
here till I gie the order, an' - how am I to waste paint onher, wi'
the Lammergeyer docked for who knows how long an' a'?'
"She was our big freighter - McIntyre was engineer - an' I knew she'd
come from overhaul not three months. That morn I met McRimmon's
head-clerk - ye'll not know him - fair bitin' his nails off wi'
"'The auld man's gone gyte,' says he. 'He's withdrawn the Lammergeyer.'
"'Maybe he has reasons,' says I.
"'Reasons! He's daft!'
"'He'll no be daft till he begins to paint,' I said.
"'That's just what he's done - and South American freights higher
than we'll live to see them again. He's laid her up to paint her -
to paint her - to paint her!' says the little clerk, dancin' like a
hen on a hot plate. 'Five thousand ton o' potential freight rottin'
in drydock, man; an' he dolin' the paint out in quarter-pound tins,
for it cuts him to the heart, mad though he is. An' the Grotkau -
the Grotkau of all conceivable bottoms - soaking up every pound that
should be ours at Liverpool!'
"I was staggered wi' this folly - considerin' the dinner at Radley's
in connection wi' the same.
"Ye may well stare, McPhee,' says the head-clerk. 'There's engines,
an' rollin' stock, an' iron bridgesd' ye know what freights are noo?
an' pianos, an' millinery, an' fancy Brazil cargo o' every species
pourin' into the Grotkau - the Grotkau o' the Jerusalem firm - and
the Lammergeyer's bein' painted!'
"Losh, I thought he'd drop dead wi' the fits.
"I could say no more than 'Obey orders, if ye break owners,' but on
the Kite we believed McRimmon was mad; an' McIntyre of the Lammergeyer
was for lockin' him up by some patent legal process he'd found in a
book o' maritime law. An' a' that week South American freights rose
an' rose. It was sinfu'!
"Syne Bell got orders to tak' the Kite round to Liverpool in
water-ballast, and McRimmon came to bid's good-bye, yammerin' an'
whinin' o'er the acres o' paint he'd lavished on the Lammergeyer.
"'I look to you to retrieve it,' says he. 'I look to you to
reimburse me! 'Fore God, why are ye not cast off? Are ye dawdlin'
in dock for a purpose?'
"'What odds, McRimmon?' says Bell. 'We'll be a day behind the fair
at Liverpool. The Grotkau's got all the freight that might ha' been
ours an' the Lammergeyer's.' McRimmon laughed an' chuckled - the
pairfect eemage o' senile dementia. Ye ken his eyebrows wark up an'
down like a gorilla's.
"'Ye're under sealed orders,' said he, tee-heein' an' scratchin'
himself. 'Yon's they' - to be opened seriatim.
"Says Bell, shufflin' the envelopes when the auld man had gone
ashore: 'We're to creep round a' the south coast, standin' in for
orders his weather, too. There's no question o' his lunacy now.'
"Well, we buttocked the auld Kite along - vara bad weather we made
- standin' in all alongside for telegraphic orders, which are the
curse o' skippers. Syne we made over to Holyhead, an' Bell opened
the last envelope for the last instructions. I was wi' him in the
cuddy, an' he threw it over to me, cryin': 'Did ye ever know the
"I'll no say what McRimmon had written, but he was far from mad.
There was a sou'wester brewin' when we made the mouth o' the Mersey,
a bitter cold morn wi' a grey-green sea and a grey-green sky -
Liverpool weather, as they say; an' there we lay choppin', an' the
crew swore. Ye canna keep secrets aboard ship. They thought
McRimmon was mad, too.
"Syne we saw the Grotkau rollin' oot on the top o' flood, deep an'
double deep, wi' her new-painted funnel an' her new-painted boats
an' a'. She looked her name, an', moreover, she coughed like it.
Calder tauld me at Radley's what ailed his engines, but my own ear
would ha' told me twa mile awa', by the beat o' them. Round we
came, plungin' an' squatterin' in her wake, an' the wind cut wi'
good promise o' more to come. By six it blew hard but clear, an'
before the middle watch it was a sou'wester in airnest.
"'She'll edge into Ireland, this gait,' says Bell. I was with him
on the bridge, watchin' the Grotkau's port light. Ye canna see
green so far as red, or we'd ha' kept to leeward. We'd no
passengers to consider, an' (all eyes being on the Grotkau) we fair
walked into a liner rampin' home to Liverpool. Or, to be preceese,
Bell no more than twisted the Kite oot from under her bows, and
there was a little damnin' betwix' the twa bridges. "Noo a
passenger" - McPhee regarded me benignantly -"wad ha' told the
papers that as soon as he got to the Customs. We stuck to the
Grotkau's tail that night an' the next twa days - she slowed down
to five knot by my reckonin' and we lapped along the weary way to
"But you don't go by the Fastnet to get to any South American port,
do you?" I said.
"We do not. We prefer to go as direct as may be. But we were
followin' the Grotkau, an' she'd no walk into that gale for ony
consideration. Knowin' what I did to her discredit, I couldna blame
young Bannister. It was warkin' up to a North Atlantic winter gale,
snow an' sleet an' a perishin' wind. Eh, it was like the Deil
walkin' abroad o' the surface o' the deep, whuppin' off the top
o' the waves before he made up his mind. They'd bore up against
it so far, but the minute she was clear o' the Skelligs she fair
tucked up her skirts an' ran for it by Dunmore Head. Wow, she
"'She'll be makin' Smerwick,' says Bell.
"She'd ha' tried for Ventry by noo if she meant that,' I said.
"'They'll roll the funnel oot o' her, this gait,' says Bell. 'Why
canna Bannister keep her head to sea?'
"It's the tail-shaft. Ony rollin''s better than pitchin' wi'
superfeecial cracks in the tail-shaft. Calder knows that much,' I
"'It's ill wark retreevin' steamers this weather,' said Bell. His
beard and whiskers were frozen to his oilskin, an' the spray was
white on the weather side of him. Pairfect North Atlantic winter
"One by one the sea raxed away our three boats, an' the davits were
crumpled like ram's horns.
"'Yon's bad,' said Bell, at the last. 'Ye canna pass a hawser wi'oot
a boat.' Bell was a vara judeecious man - for an Aberdonian.
"I'm not one that fashes himself for eventualities outside the
engine-room, so I e'en slipped down betwixt waves to see how the
Kite fared. Man, she's the best geared boat of her class that ever
left Clyde! Kinloch, my second, knew her as well as I did. I found
him dryin' his socks on the main-steam, an' combin' his whiskers wi'
the comb Janet gied me last year, for the warld an' a' as though we
were in port. I tried the feed, speered into the stoke-hole,
thumbed all bearin's, spat on the thrust for luck, gied 'em my
blessin', an' took Kinloch's socks before I went up to the bridge
"Then Bell handed me the wheel, an' went below to warm himself.
When he came up my gloves were frozen to the spokes an' the ice
clicked over my eyelids. Pairfect North Atlantic winter weather,
as I was sayin'.
"The gale blew out by night, but we lay in smotherin' cross-seas
that made the auld Kite chatter from stem to stern. I slowed to
thirty-four, I mind - no, thirty-seven. There was a long swell the
morn, an' the Grotkau was headin' into it west awa'.
"'She'll win to Rio yet, tail-shaft or no tail-shaft,' says Bell.
"'Last night shook her,' I said. 'She'll jar it off yet, mark my
"We were then, maybe, a hunder and fifty mile westsou'west o' Slyne
Head, by dead reckonin'. Next day we made a hunder an' thirty -
ye'll note we were not racin-boats - an' the day after a hunder an'
sixty-one, an' that made us, we'll say, Eighteen an' a bittock west,
an' maybe Fifty-one an' a bittock north, crossin' all the North
Atlantic liner lanes on the long slant, always in sight o' the
Grotkau, creepin' up by night and fallin' awa' by day. After the
gale it was cold weather wi' dark nights.
"I was in the engine-room on Friday night, just before the middle
watch, when Bell whustled down the tube: 'She's done it'; an' up I
"The Grotkau was just a fair distance south, an' one by one she ran
up the three red lights in a vertical line - the sign of a steamer
not under control.
"'Yon's a tow for us,' said Bell, lickin' his chops. 'She'll be
worth more than the Breslau. We'll go down to her, McPhee!'
"'Bide a while,' I said. 'The seas fair throng wi' ships here.'
"'Reason why,' said Bell. 'It's a fortune gaun beggin'. What d'
ye think, man?'
"'Gie her till daylight. She knows we're here. If Bannister needs
help he'll loose a rocket.'
"'Wha told ye Bannister's need? We'll ha' some rag-an'-bone tramp
snappin' her up under oor nose,' said he; an' he put the wheel over.
We were goin' slow.
"'Bannister wad like better to go home on a liner an' eat in the
saloon. Mind ye what they said o' Holdock & Steiner's food that
night at Radley's? Keep her awa', man - keep her awa'. A tow's a
tow, but a derelict's big salvage.'
"'E-eh! 'said Bell. 'Yon's an inshot o' yours, Mac. I love ye like
a brother. We'll bide whaur we are till daylight'; an' he kept her
"Syne up went a rocket forward, an' twa on the bridge, an' a blue
light aft. Syne a tar-barrel forward again.
"'She's sinkin',' said Bell. 'It's all gaun, an' I'll get no more
than a pair o' night-glasses for pickin' up young Bannister - the
"' Fair an' soft again,' I said. 'She's signallin' to the south
of us. Bannister knows as well as I that one rocket would bring
the Breslau. He'll no be wastin' fireworks for nothin'. Hear her
"The Grotkau whustled an' whustled for five minutes, an' then there
were more fireworks - a regular exhibeetion.
"'That's no for men in the regular trade,' says Bell. 'Ye're right,
Mac. That's for a cuddy full o' passengers.' He blinked through
the night-glasses when it lay a bit thick to southward.
"'What d' ye make of it?' I said.
"'Liner,' he says. 'Yon's her rocket. Ou, ay; they've waukened
the gold-strapped skipper, an' - noo they've waukened the passengers.
They're turnin' on the electrics, cabin by cabin. Yon's anither
rocket! They're comin' up to help the perishin' in deep watters.'
"'Gie me the glass,' I said. But Bell danced on the bridge, clean
dementit. 'Mails-mails-mails!' said he. 'Under contract wi' the
Government for the due conveyance o' the mails; an' as such, Mac,
yell note, she may rescue life at sea, but she canna tow! - she
canna tow! Yon's her night-signal. She'll be up in half an hour!'
"'Gowk!' I said, 'an' we blazin' here wi' all oor lights. Oh, Bell,
ye're a fool!'
"He tumbled off the bridge forward, an' I tumbled aft, an' before
ye could wink our lights were oot, the engine-room hatch was covered,
an' we lay pitch-dark, watchin' the lights o' the liner come up that
the Grotkau'd been signallin' to. Twenty knot an hour she came,
every cabin lighted, an' her boats swung awa'. It was grandly done,
an' in the inside of an hour. She stopped like Mrs. Holdock's
machine; down went the gangway, down went the boats, an' in ten
minutes we heard the passengers cheerin', an' awa' she fled.
"'They'll tell o' this all the days they live,' said Bell. 'A
rescue at sea by night, as pretty as a play. Young Bannister an'
Calder will be drinkin' in the saloon, an' six months hence the
Board o' Trade 'll gie the skipper a pair o' binoculars. It's
vara philanthropic all round.'
"We'll lay by till day - ye may think we waited for it wi' sore
eyes an' there sat the Grotkau, her nose a bit cocked, just leerin'
at us. She looked paifectly ridiculous.
"'She'll be fillin' aft,' says Bell; 'for why is she down by the
stern? The tail-shaft's punched a hole in her, an' - we 've no
boats. There's three hunder thousand pound sterlin', at a
conservative estimate, droonin' before our eyes. What's to do?'
An' his bearin's got hot again in a minute: he was an incontinent
"'Run her as near as ye daur,' I said. 'Gie me a jacket an' a
lifeline, an' I'll swum for it.' There was a bit lump of a sea,
an' it was cold in the wind - vara cold; but they'd gone overside
like passengers, young Bannister an' Calder an' a', leaving the
gangway down on the lee-side. It would ha' been a flyin' in the
face o' manifest Providence to overlook the invitation. We were
within fifty yards o' her while Kinloch was garmin' me all over wi'
oil behind the galley; an' as we ran past I went outboard for the
salvage o' three hunder thousand pound. Man, it was perishin'
cold, but I'd done my job judgmatically, an' came scrapin' all
along her side slap on to the lower gratin' o' the gangway. No
one more astonished than me, I assure ye. Before I'd caught my
breath I'd skinned both my knees on the gratin', an' was climbin'
up before she rolled again. I made my line fast to the rail, an'
squattered aft to young Bannister's cabin, whaaur I dried me wi'
everything in his bunk, an' put on every conceivable sort o' rig
I found till the blood was circulatin'. Three pair drawers, I mind
I found - to begin upon - an' I needed them all. It was the
coldest cold I remember in all my experience.
"Syne I went aft to the engine-room. The Grotkau sat on her own
tail, as they say. She was vara shortshafted, an' her gear was all
aft. There was four or five foot o' water in the engine-room
slummockin' to and fro, black an' greasy; maybe there was six foot.
The stoke-hold doors were screwed home, an' the stoke-hold was tight
enough, but for a minute the mess in the engine-room deceived me.
Only for a minute, though, an' that was because I was not, in a
manner o' speakin', as calm as ordinar'. I looked again to mak'
sure. 'T was just black wi' bilge: dead watter that must ha' come
in fortuitously, ye ken."
"McPhee, I'm only a passenger," I said, "but you don't persuade me
that six foot o' water can come into an engine-room fortuitously."
"Who's tryin' to persuade one way or the other?" McPhee retorted.
"I'm statin' the facts o' the case - the simple, natural facts. Six
or seven foot o' dead watter in the engine-room is a vara depressin'
sight if ye think there's like to be more comin'; but I did not
consider that such was likely, and so, yell note, I was not
"That's all very well, but I want to know about the water," I said.
"I've told ye. There was six feet or more there, wi' Calder's cap
floatin' on top."
"Where did it come from?"
"Weel, in the confusion o' things after the propeller had dropped
off an' the engines were racin' an' a', it's vara possible that
Calder might ha' lost it off his head an' no troubled himself to
pick it up again. I remember seem' that cap on him at Southampton."
"I don't want to know about the cap. I'm asking where the water
came from and what it was doing there, and why you were so certain
that it wasn't a leak, McPhee?"
"For good reason-for good an' sufficient reason."
"Give it to me, then."
"Weel, it's a reason that does not properly concern myself only.
To be preceese, I'm of opinion that it was due, the watter, in part
to an error o' judgment in another man. We can a' mak' mistakes."
"Oh, I beg your pardon?"
"I got me to the rail again, an', 'What's wrang?' said Bell, hailin'.
"'She'll do,' I said. 'Send's o'er a hawser, an' a man to steer.
I'll pull him in by the life-line.'
"I could see heads bobbin' back an' forth, an' a whuff or two o'
strong words. Then Bell said: 'They'll not trust themselves - one
of 'em - in this waiter - except Kinloch, an' I'll no spare him.'
"'The more salvage to me, then,' I said. 'I'll make shift solo.'
"Says one dock-rat, at this: 'D' ye think she's safe?'
"'I'll guarantee ye nothing,' I said, 'except maybe a hammerin' for
keepin' me this long.'
"Then he sings out: 'There's no more than one lifebelt, an' they
canna find it, or I'd come.'
"'Throw him over, the Jezebel,' I said, for I was oot o' patience;
an' they took haud o' that volunteer before he knew what was in
store, and hove him over, in the bight of my life-line. So I e'en
hauled him upon the sag of it, hand over fist - a vara welcome
recruit when I'd tilted the salt watter oot of him: for, by the
way, he could na swim.
"Syne they bent a twa-inch rope to the life-line, an' a hawser to
that, an' I led the rope o'er the drum of a hand-winch forward, an'
we sweated the hawser inboard an' made it fast to the Grotkau's
"Bell brought the Kite so close I feared she'd roll in an' do the
Grotkau's plates a mischief. He hove anither life-line to me, an'
went astern, an' we had all the weary winch work to do again wi' a
second hawser. For all that, Bell was right: we'd along tow before
us, an' though Providence had helped us that far, there was no
sense in leavin' too much to its keepin'. When the second hawser
was fast, I was wet wi' sweat, an' I cried Bell to tak' up his
slack an' go home. The other man was by way o' helpin' the work wi'
askin' for drinks, but I e'en told him he must hand reef an' steer,
beginnin' with steerin', for I was goin' to turn in. He steered -
oh, ay, he steered, in a manner o' speakin'. At the least, he
grippit the spokes an' twiddled 'em an' looked wise, but I doubt if
the Hoor ever felt it. I turned in there an' then, to young
Bannister's bunk, an' slept past expression. I waukened ragin' wi'
hunger, a fair lump o' sea runnin', the Kite snorin' awa' four knots
an hour; an' the Grotkau slappin' her nose under, an' yawin' an'
standin' over at discretion. She was a most disgracefu' tow. But
the shameful thing of all was the food. I raxed me a meal fra
galley-shelves an' pantries an' lazareetes an' cubby-holes that I
would not ha' gied to the mate of a Cardiff collier; an' ye ken we
say a Cardiff mate will eat clinkers to save waste. I'm sayin' it
was simply vile! The crew had written what they thought of it on
the new paint o' the fo'c'sle, but I had not a decent soul wi' me
to complain on. There was nothin' for me to do save watch the
hawsers an' the Kite's tail squatterin' down in white watter when
she lifted to a sea; so I got steam on the after donkey-pump, an'
pumped oot the engine-room. There's no sense in leavin' waiter
loose in a ship. When she was dry, I went doun the shaft-tunnel,
an' found she was leakin' a little through the stuffin'box, but
nothin' to make wark. The propeller had e'en jarred off, as I knew
it must, an' Calder had been waitin' for it to go wi' his hand on
the gear. He told me as much when I met him ashore. There was
nothin' started or strained. It had just slipped awa' to the bed o'
the Atlantic as easy as a man dyin' wi' due warning - a most
providential business for all concerned. Syne I took stock o' the
Grotkau's upper works. Her boats had been smashed on the davits, an'
here an' there was the rail missin', an' a ventilator or two had
fetched awa', an' the bridge-rails were bent by the seas; but her
hatches were tight, and she'd taken no sort of harm. Dod, I came
to hate her like a human bein', for I was eight weary days aboard,
starvin' - ay, starvin' - within a cable's length o' plenty. All
day I laid in the bunk reading the' Woman-Hater,' the grandest book
Charlie Reade ever wrote, an' pickin' a toothful here an' there.
It was weary, weary work. Eight days, man, I was aboard the Grotkau,
an' not one full meal did I make. Sma' blame her crew would not
stay by her. The other man? Oh I warked him wi' a vengeance to
keep him warm.
"It came on to blow when we fetched soundin's, an' that kept me
standin' by the hawsers, lashed to the capstan, breathin' twixt
green seas. I near died o' cauld an' hunger, for the Grotkau towed
like a barge, an' Bell howkit her along through or over. It was
vara thick up-Channel, too. We were standin' in to make some sort
o' light, an' we near walked over twa three fishin'-boats, an' they
cried us we were overclose to Falmouth. Then we were near cut down
by a drunken foreign fruiter that was blunderin' between us an' the
shore, and it got thicker an' thicker that night, an' I could feel
by the tow Bell did not know whaur he was. Losh, we knew in the
morn, for the wind blew the fog oot like a candle, an' the sun came
clear; and as surely as McRimmon gied me my cheque, the shadow o'
the Eddystone lay across our tow-rope! We were that near - ay, we
were that near! Bell fetched the Kite round with the jerk that
came close to tearin' the bitts out o' the Grotkau, an' I mind I
thanked my Maker in young Bannister's cabin when we were inside
"The first to come aboard was McRimmon, wi' Dandie. Did I tell you
our orders were to take anything we found into Plymouth? The auld
deil had just come down overnight, puttin' two an' two together from
what Calder had told him when the liner landed the Grotkau's men.
He had preceesely hit oor time. I'd hailed Bell for something to
eat, an' he sent it o'er in the same boat wi' McRimmon, when the
auld man came to me. He grinned an' slapped his legs and worked
his eyebrows the while I ate.
"'How do Holdock, Steiner & Chase feed their men?' said he.
"'Ye can see,' I said, knockin' the top off another beer-bottle.
'I did not sign to be starved, McRimmon.'
"'Nor to swum, either,' said he, for Bell had tauld him how I
carried the line aboard. 'Well, I'm thinkin' you'll be no loser.
What freight could we ha' put into the Lammergeyer would equal
salvage on four hunder thousand pounds - hull an' cargo? Eh,
McPhee? This cuts the liver out o' Holdock, Steiner, Chase &
Company, Limited. Eh, McPhee? An' I'm sufferin' from senile
dementia now? Eh, MCPhee? An' I'm not daft, am I, till I begin
to paint the Lammergeyer? Eh, McPhee? Ye may weel lift your leg,
Dandie! I ha' the laugh o' them all. Ye found watter in the
"'To speak wi'oot prejudice,' I said, ' there was some watter.'
"'They thought she was sinkin' after the propeller went. She filled
wi' extraordinary rapeedity. Calder said it grieved him an'
Bannister to abandon her.'
"I thought o' the dinner at Radley's, an' what like o' food I'd
eaten for eight days.
"'It would grieve them sore,' I said.
"'But the crew would not hear o' stayin' and workin' her back under
canvas. They're gaun up an' down sayin' they'd ha' starved first.'
"'They'd ha' starved if they'd stayed,' said I.
"'I tak' it, fra Calder's account, there was a mutiny a'most.'
"'Ye know more than I, McRimmon' I said. 'Speakin' wi'oot prejudice,
for we're all in the same boat, who opened the bilgecock?'
"'Oh, that's it - is it?' said the auld man, an' I could see he was
surprised. 'A bilge-cock, ye say?'
"'I believe it was a bilge-cock. They were all shut when I came
aboard, but some one had flooded the engine-room eight feet over all,
and shut it off with the worm-an'-wheel gear from the second gratin'
"'Losh!' said McRimmon. 'The ineequity o' man's beyond belief.
But it's awfu' discreditable to Holdock, Steiner & Chase, if that
came oot in court.'
"'It's just my own curiosity,' I said.
"'Aweel, Dandie's afflicted wi' the same disease. Dandie, strive
against curiosity, for it brings a little dog into traps an'
suchlike. Whaur was the Kite when yon painted liner took off the
"'Just there or thereabouts,' I said.
"'An' which o' you twa thought to cover your lights?' said he,
"'Dandle,' I said to the dog, 'we must both strive against curiosity.
It's an unremunerative business. What's our chance o' salvage,
"He laughed till he choked. 'Tak' what I gie you, McPhee, an' be
content,' he said. 'Lord, how a man wastes time when he gets old.
Get aboard the Kite, mon, as soon as ye can. I've clean forgot
there's a Baltic charter yammerin' for you at London. That'll be
your last voyage, I'm thinkin', excep' by way o' pleasure.'
"Steiner's men were comin' aboard to take charge an' tow her round,
an' I passed young Steiner in a boat as I went to the Kite. He
looked down his nose; but McRimmon pipes up: 'Here's the man ye owe
the Grotkau to - at a price, Steiner - at a price! Let me introduce
Mr. McPhee to you. Maybe ye've met before; but ye've vara little
luck in keepin' your men - ashore or afloat!'
"Young Steiner looked angry enough to eat him as he chuckled an'
whustled in his dry old throat.
"'Ye've not got your award yet,' Steiner says.
"'Na, na,' says the auld man, in a screech ye could hear to the Hoe,
'but I've twa million sterlin', an' no bairns, ye Judeeas Apella,
if ye mean to fight; an' I'll match ye p'und for p'und till the last
p'und's oot. Ye ken me, Steiner! I'm McRimmon o' McNaughten &
"'Dod,' he said betwix' his teeth, sittin' back in the boat, 'I've
waited fourteen year to break that Jewfirm, an' God be thankit I'll
do it now.'
"The Kite was in the Baltic while the auld man was warkin' his warks,
but I know the assessors valued the Grotkau, all told, at over three
hunder and sixty thousand - her manifest was a treat o' richness -
an' McRimmon got a third for salvin' an abandoned ship. Ye see,
there's vast deeference between towin' a ship wi' men on her an'
pickin' up a derelict - a vast deeference - in pounds sterlin'.
Moreover, twa three o' the Grotkau's crew were burnin' to testify
about food, an' there was a note o' Calder to the Board, in regard
to the tail-shaft, that would ha' been vara damagin' if it had come
into court. They knew better than to fight.
"Syne the Kite came back, an' McRimmon paid off me an' Bell
personally, an' the rest of the crew pro rata, I believe it's ca'ed.
My share - oor share, I should say - was just twenty-five thousand
At this point Janet jumped up and kissed him.
"Five-and-twenty thousand pound sterlin'. Noo, I'm fra the North,
and I'm not the like to fling money awa' rashly, but I'd gie six
months' pay - one hunder an' twenty pounds - to know who flooded
the engine-room of the Grotkau. I'm fairly well acquaint wi'
McRimmon's eediosyncrasies, and he'd no hand in it. It was not
Calder, for I've asked him, an' he wanted to fight me. It would
be in the highest degree unprofessional o' Calder - not fightin',
but openin' bilge-cocks - but for a while I thought it was him. Ay,
I judged it might be him - under temptation."
"What's your theory?" I demanded.
"Weel, I'm inclined to think it was one o' those singular providences
that remind us we're in the hands o' Higher Powers." .
"It couldn't open and shut itself?"
"I did not mean that; but some half-starvin' oiler or, maybe, trimmer
must ha' opened it awhile to mak' sure o' leavin' the Grotkau. It's
a demoralisin' thing to see an engine-room flood up after any
accident to the gear - demoralisin' and deceptive both. Aweel, the
man got what he wanted, for they went aboard the liner cryin' that
the Grotkau was sinkin'. But it's curious to think o' the
consequences. In a' human probability, he's bein' damned in heaps
at the present moment aboard another tramp freighter; an' here am
I, wi' five-an'-twenty thousand pound invested, resolute to go to
sea no more - providential's the preceese word - except as a
passenger, ye'll understand, Janet."
* * * * * * * * * * * *
McPhee kept his word. He and Janet went for a voyage as passengers
in the first-class saloon. They paid seventy pounds for their
berths; and Janet found a very sick woman in the second-class
saloon, so that for sixteen days she lived below, and chatted with
the stewardesses at the foot of the second-saloon stairs while her
patient slept. McPhee was a passenger for exactly twenty-four
hours. Then the engineers' mess - where the oilcloth tables are -
joyfully took him to its bosom, and for the rest of the voyage that
company was richer by the unpaid services of a highly certificated
AN ERROR IN THE FOURTH DIMENSION
Before he was thirty, he discovered that there was no one to play
with him. Though the wealth of three toilsome generations stood to
his account, though his tastes in the matter of books, bindings,
rugs, swords, bronzes, lacquer, pictures, plate, statuary, horses,
conservatories, and agriculture were educated and catholic, the
public opinion of his country wanted to know why he did not go to
office daily, as his father had before him.
So he fled, and they howled behind him that he was an unpatriotic
Anglomaniac, born to consume fruits, one totally lacking in public
spirit. He wore an eyeglass; he had built a wall round his country
house, with a high gate that shut, instead of inviting America to
sit on his flower-beds; he ordered his clothes from England; and
the press of his abiding city cursed him, from his eye-glass to his
trousers, for two consecutive days.
When he rose to light again, it was where nothing less than the
tents of an invading army in Piccadilly would make any difference
to anybody. If he had money and leisure, England stood ready to
give him all that money and leisure could buy. That price paid,
she would ask no questions. He took his cheque-book and accumulated
things - warily at first, for he remembered that in America things
own the man. To his delight, he discovered that in England he
could put his belongings under his feet; for classes, ranks, and
denominations of people rose, as it were, from the earth, and
silently and discreetly took charge of his possessions. They had
been born and bred for that sole purpose - servants of the
cheque-book. When that was at an end they would depart as
mysteriously as they had come.
The impenetrability of this regulated life irritated him, and he
strove to learn something of the human side of these people. He
retired baffled, to be trained by his menials. In America, the
native demoralises the English servant. In England, the servant
educates the master. Wilton Sargent strove to learn all they taught
as ardently as his father had striven to wreck, before capture, the
railways of his native land; and it must have been some touch of
the old bandit railway blood that bade him buy, for a song, Holt
Hangars, whose forty-acre lawn, as every one knows, sweeps down in
velvet to the quadruple tracks of the Great Buchonian Railway. Their
trains flew by almost continuously, with a bee-like drone in the day
and a flutter of strong wings at night. The son of Merton Sargent
had good right to be interested in them. He owned controlling
interests in several thousand miles of track, - not permanent way,
- built on altogether different plans, where locomotives eternally
whistled for grade-crossings, and parlor-cars of fabulous expense
and unrestful design skated round curves that the Great Buchonian
would have condemned as unsafe in a construction-line. From the
edge of his lawn he could trace the chaired metals falling away,
rigid as a bowstring, into the valley of the Prest, studded with the
long perspective of the block signals, buttressed with stone, and
carried, high above all possible risk, on a forty-foot embankment.
Left to himself, he would have builded a private car, and kept it
at the nearest railway-station, Amberley Royal, five miles away.
But those into whose hands he had committed himself for his English
training had little knowledge of railways and less of private cars.
The one they knew was something that existed in the scheme of things
for their convenience. The other they held to be "distinctly
American"; and, with the versatility of his race, Wilton Sargent had
set out to be just a little more English than the English.
He succeeded to admiration. He learned not to redecorate Holt
Hangars, though he warmed it; to leave his guests alone; to refrain
from superfluous introductions; to abandon manners of which he had
great store, and to hold fast by manner which can after labour be
acquired. He learned to let other people, hired for the purpose,
attend to the duties for which they were paid. He learned - this
he got from a ditcher on the estate - that every man with whom he
came in contact had his decreed position in the fabric of the realm,
which position he would do well to consult. Last mystery of all,
he learned to golf - well: and when an American knows the innermost
meaning of "Don't press, slow back, and keep your eye on the ball,"
he is, for practical purposes, denationalised.
His other education proceeded on the pleasantest lines. Was he
interested in any conceivable thing in heaven above, or the earth
beneath, or the waters under the earth? Forthwith appeared at his
table, guided by those safe hands into which he had fallen, the
very men who had best said, done, written, explored, excavated,
built, launched, created, or studied that one thing - herders of
books and prints in the British Museum; specialists in scarabs,
cartouches, and dynasties Egyptian; rovers and raiders from the
heart of unknown lands; toxicologists; orchid-hunters; monographers
on flint implements, carpets, prehistoric man, or early Renaissance
music. They came, and they played with him. They asked no
questions; they cared not so much as a pin who or what he was. They
demanded only that he should be able to talk and listen courteously.
Their work was done elsewhere and out of his sight.
There were also women.
"Never," said Wilton Sargent to himself, "has an American seen
England as I'm seeing it"; and he thought, blushing beneath the
bedclothes, of the unregenerate and blatant days when he would steam
to office, down the Hudson, in his twelve-hundred-ton ocean-going
steam-yacht, and arrive, by gradations, at Bleecker Street, hanging
on to a leather strap between an Irish washerwoman and a German
anarchist. If any of his guests had seen him then they would have
said: "How distinctly American!" and - Wilton did not care for that
tone. He had schooled himself to an English walk, and, so long as
he did not raise it, an English voice. He did not gesticulate with
his hands; he sat down on most of his enthusiasms, but he could not
rid himself of The Shibboleth. He would ask for the Worcestershire
sauce: even Howard, his immaculate butler, could not break him of
It was decreed that he should complete his education in a wild and
wonderful manner, and, further, that I should be in at that death.
Wilton had more than once asked me to Holt Hangars, for the purpose
of showing how well the new life fitted him, and each time I had
declared it creaseless. His third invitation was more informal
than the others, and he hinted of some matter in which he was
anxious for my sympathy or counsel, or both. There is room for an
infinity of mistakes when a man begins to take liberties with his
nationality; and I went down expecting things. A seven-foot
dog-cart and a groom in the black Holt Hangars livery met me at
Amberley Royal. At Holt Hangars I was received by a person of
elegance and true reserve, and piloted to my luxurious chamber.
There were no other guests in the house, and this set me thinking.
Wilton came into my room about half an hour before dinner, and though
his face was masked with a drop-curtain of highly embroidered
indifference, I could see that he was not at ease. In time, for he
was then almost as difficult to move as one of my own countrymen, I
extracted the tale - simple in its extravagance, extravagant in its
simplicity. It seemed that Hackman of the British Museum had been
staying with him about ten days before, boasting of scarabs. Hackman
has a way of carrying really priceless antiquities on his tie-ring
and in his trouser pockets. Apparently, he had intercepted something
on its way to the Boulak Museum which, he said, was "a genuine
Amen-Hotepa queen's scarab of the Fourth Dynasty." Now Wilton had
bought from Cassavetti, whose reputation is not above suspicion, a
scarab of much the same scarabeousness, and had left it in his London
chambers. Hackman at a venture, but knowing Cassavetti, pronounced
it an imposition. There was long discussion - savant versus
millionaire, one saying: " ut I know it cannot be"; and the other:
"But I can and will prove it." Wilton found it necessary for his
soul's satisfaction to go up to town, then and there, - a forty-mile
run, - and bring back the scarab before dinner. It was at this point
that he began to cut corners with disastrous results. Amberley Royal
station being five miles away, and putting in of horses a matter of
time, Wilton had told Howard, the immaculate butler, to signal the
next train to stop; and Howard, who was more of a man of resource
than his master gave him credit for, had, with the red flag of the
ninth hole of the links which crossed the bottom of the lawn,
signalled vehemently to the first down-train; and it had stopped.
Here Wilton's account became confused. He attempted, it seems, to
get into that highly indignant express, but a guard restrained him
with more or less force - hauled him, in fact, backyards from the
window of a locked carriage. Wilton must have struck the gravel
with some vehemence, for the consequences, he admitted, were a free
fight on the line in which he lost his hat, and was at last dragged
into the guard's van and set down breathless.
He had pressed money upon the man, and very foolishly had explained
everything but his name. This he clung to, for he had a vision of
tall head-lines in the New York papers, and well knew no son of
Merton Sargent could expect mercy that side the water. The guard,
to Wilton's amazement, refused the money on the grounds that this
was a matter for the Company to attend to. Wilton insisted on his
incognito, and, therefore, found two policemen waiting for him at
St. Botolph terminus. When he expressed a wish to buy a new hat
and telegraph to his friends, both policemen with one voice warned
him that whatever he said would be used as evidence against him;
and this had impressed Wilton tremendously.
"They were so infernally polite," he said. "If they had clubbed me
I wouldn't have cared; but it was, 'Step this way, sir,' and, 'Up
those stairs, please, sir,' till they jailed me - jailed me like a
common drunk, and I had to stay in a filthy little cubby-hole of a
cell all night."
"That comes of not giving your name and not wiring your lawyer," I
replied. "What did you get?"
"Forty shillings, or a month," said Wilton, promptly, - "next morning
bright and early. They were working us off, three a minute. A girl
in a pink hat - she was brought in at three in the morning - got ten
days. I suppose I was lucky. I must have knocked his senses out of
the guard. He told the old duck on the bench that I had told him I
was a sergeant in the army, and that I was gathering beetles on the
track. That comes of trying to explain to an Englishman."
"Oh, I said nothing. I wanted to get out. I paid my fine, and
bought a new hat, and came up here before noon next morning. There
were a lot of people in the house, and I told ' em I'd been
unavoidably detained, and then they began to recollect engagements
elsewhere. Hackman must have seen the fight on the track and made
a story of it. I suppose they thought it was distinctly American
- confound 'em! It's the only time in my life that I've ever
flagged a train, and I wouldn't have done it but for that scarab.
'T wouldn't hurt their old trains to be held up once in a while."
"Well, it's all over now," I said, choking a little. "And your name
didn't get into the papers. It is rather transatlantic when you
come to think of it."
"Over!" Wilton grunted savagely. "It's only just begun. That
trouble with the guard was just common, ordinary assault - merely
a little criminal business. The flagging of the train is civil,
infernally civil, - and means something quite different. They're
after me for that now."
"The Great Buchonian. There was a man in court watching the case
on behalf of the Company. I gave him my name in a quiet corner
before I bought my hat, and - come to dinner now; I'll show you the
results afterwards." The telling of his wrongs had worked Wilton
Sargent into a very fine temper, and I do not think that my
conversation soothed him. In the course of the dinner, prompted
by a devil of pure mischief, I dwelt with loving insistence on
certain smells and sounds of New York which go straight to the heart
of the native in foreign parts; and Wilton began to ask many
questions about his associates aforetime - men of the New York Yacht
Club, Storm King, or the Restigouche, owners of rivers, ranches,
and shipping in their playtime, lords of railways, kerosene, wheat,
and cattle in their offices. When the green mint came, I gave him
a peculiarly oily and atrocious cigar, of the brand they sell in the
tessellated, electric-lighted, with expensive-pictures-of-the-nude
adorned bar of the Pandemonium, and Wilton chewed the end for
several minutes ere he lit it. The butler left us alone, and the
chimney of the oak-panelled diningroom began to smoke.
"That's another!" said he, poking the fire savagely, and I knew
what he meant. One cannot put steam-heat in houses where Queen
Elizabeth slept. The steady beat of a night-mail, whirling down
the valley, recalled me to business. "What about the Great
Buchonian?" I said.
"Come into my study. That's all - as yet."
It was a pile of Seidlitz-powders-coloured correspondence, perhaps
nine inches high, and it looked very businesslike.
"You can go through it," said Wilton. "Now I could take a chair
and a red flag and go into Hyde Park and say the most atrocious
things about your Queen, and preach anarchy and all that, y' know,
till I was hoarse, and no one would take any notice. The Police
damn 'em! - would protect me if I got into trouble. But for a
little thing like flagging a dirty little sawed-off train, -
running through my own grounds, too, - I get the whole British
Constitution down on me as if I sold bombs. I don't understand it."
"No more does the Great Buchonian - apparently." I was turning over
the letters. "Here's the traffic superintendent writing that it's
utterly incomprehensible that any man should ... Good heavens,
Wilton, you have done it!" I giggled, as I read on.
"What's funny now?" said my host.
"It seems that you, or Howard for you, stopped the three-forty
"I ought to know that! They all had their knife into me, from the
"But it's the three-forty - the Induna - surely you've heard of
the Great Buchonian's Induna!"
"How the deuce am I to know one train from another? They come along
about every two minutes."
"Quite so. But this happens to be the Induna - the one train of
the whole line. She's timed for fifty-seven miles an hour. She was
put on early in the Sixties, and she has never been stopped - "
"I know! Since William the Conqueror came over, or King Charles hid
in her smoke-stack. You're as bad as the rest of these Britishers.
If she's been run all that while, it's time she was flagged once or
The American was beginning to ooze out all over Wilton, and his
small-boned hands were moving restlessly.
"Suppose you flagged the Empire State Express, or the Western Cyclone?"
"Suppose I did. I know Otis Harvey - or used to. I'd send him a wire,
and he'd understand it was a ground-hog case with me. That's exactly
what I told this British fossil company here."
"Have you been answering their letters without legal advice, then?"
"Of course I have."
"Oh, my Sainted Country! Go ahead, Wilton."
"I wrote 'em that I'd be very happy to see their president and
explain to him in three words all about it; but that wouldn't do.
'Seems their president must be a god. He was too busy, and - well,
you can read for yourself - they wanted explanations. The
stationmaster at Amberley Royal - and he grovels before me, as a
rule - wanted an explanation, and quick, too. The head sachem at
St. Botolph's wanted three or four, and the Lord High Mukkamuk that
oils the locomotives wanted one every fine day. I told 'em - I've
told hem about fifty times - I stopped their holy and sacred train
because I wanted to board her. Did they think I wanted to feel
"You didn't say that?"
"Feel her pulse'? Of course not."
"No. 'Board her.'"
"What else could I say?"
"My dear Wilton, what is the use of Mrs. Sherborne, and the Clays,
and all that lot working over you for four years to make an
Englishman out of you, if the very first time you're rattled you go
back to the vernacular?"
"I'm through with Mrs. Sherborne and the rest of the crowd. America's
good enough for me. What ought I to have said? 'Please,' or 'thanks
awf'ly or how?"
There was no chance now of mistaking the man's nationality. Speech,
gesture, and step, so carefully drilled into him, had gone away with
the borrowed mask of indifference. It was a lawful son of the
Youngest People, whose predecessors were the Red Indian. His voice
had risen to the high, throaty crow of his breed when they labour
under excitement. His close-set eyes showed by turns unnecessary
fear, annoyance beyond reason, rapid and purposeless flights of
thought, the child's lust for immediate revenge, and the child's
pathetic bewilderment, who knocks his head against the bad, wicked
table. And on the other side, I knew, stood the Company, as unable
as Wilton to understand.
"And I could buy their old road three times over," he muttered,
playing with a paper-knife, and moving restlessly to and fro.
"You didn't tell 'em that, I hope!"
There was no answer; but as I went through the letters, I felt that
Wilton must have told them many surprising things. The Great
Buchonian had first asked for an explanation of the stoppage of
their Induna, and had found a certain levity in the explanation
tendered. It then advised " Mr. W. Sargent" to refer his
solicitor to their solicitor, or whatever the legal phrase is.
"And you didn't?" I said, looking up.
"No. They were treating me exactly as if I had been a kid playing
on the cable-tracks. There was not the least necessity for any
solicitor. Five minutes' quiet talk would have settled everything."
I returned to the correspondence. The Great Buchonian regretted
that, owing to pressure of business, none of their directors could
accept Mr. W. Sargent's invitation to run down and discuss the
difficulty. The Great Buchonian was careful to point out that no
animus underlay their action, nor was money their object. Their
duty was to protect the interests of their line, and these interests
could not be protected if a precedent were established whereby any
of the Queen's subjects could stop a train in mid-career. Again
(this was another branch of the correspondence, not more than five
heads of departments being concerned), the Company admitted that
there was some reasonable doubt as to the duties of express-trains
in all crises, and the matter was open to settlement by process of
law till an authoritative ruling was obtained - from the House of
Lords, if necessary.
"That broke me all up," said Wilton, who was reading over my
shoulder. "I knew I'd struck the British Constitution at last.
The House of Lords - my Lord! And, anyway, I'm not one of the
"Why, I had a notion that you'd got yourself naturalised."
Wilton blushed hotly as he explained that very many things must
happen to the British Constitution ere he took out his papers.
"How does it all strike you?" he said. "Isn't the Great Buchonian
"I don't know. You've done something that no one ever thought of
doing before, and the Company don't know what to make of it. I see
they offer to send down their solicitor and another official of the
Company to talk things over informally. Then here's another letter
suggesting that you put up a fourteen-foot wall, crowned with
bottle-glass, at the bottom of the garden."
"Talk of British insolence! The man who recommends that (he's
another bloated functionary) says that I shall 'derive great pleasure
from watching the wall going up day by day'! Did you ever dream of
such gall? I've offered 'em money enough to buy a new set of cars
and pension the driver for three generations; but that doesn't seem
to be what they want. They expect me to go to the House of Lords
and get a ruling, and build walls between times. Are they all stark,
raving mad? One 'ud think I made a profession of flagging trains.
How in Tophet was I to know their old Induna from a waytrain? I
took the first that came along, and I've been jailed and fined for
that once already."
"That was for slugging the guard."
"He had no right to haul me out when I was half-way through a window."
"What are you going to do about it?"
"Their lawyer and the other official (can't they trust their men
unless they send 'em in pairs?) are coming hereto-night. I told 'em
I was busy, as a rule, till after dinner, but they might send along
the entire directorate if it eased 'em any."
Now, after-dinner visiting, for business or pleasure, is the custom
of the smaller American town, and not that of England, where the end
of the day is sacred to the owner, not the public. Verily, Wilton
Sargent had hoisted the striped flag of rebellion!
"Isn't it time that the humour of the situation began to strike you,
Wilton?" I asked.
"Where's the humour of baiting an American citizen just because he
happens to be a millionaire - poor devil." He was silent for a
little time, and then went on: "Of course. Now I see!" He spun
round and faced me excitedly. "It's as plain as mud. These ducks
are laying their pipes to skin me."
"They say explicitly they don't want money!"
"That's all a blind. So's their addressing me as W. Sargent. They
know well enough who I am. They know I'm the old man's son. Why
didn't I think of that before?"
"One minute, Wilton. If you climbed to the top of the dome of St.
Paul's and offered a reward to any Englishman who could tell you who
or what Merton Sargent had been, there wouldn't be twenty men in all
London to claim it."
"That's their insular provincialism, then. I don't care a cent.
The old man would have wrecked the Great Buchonian before breakfast
for a pipe-opener. My God, I'll do it in dead earnest! I'll show
'em that they can't bulldoze a foreigner for flagging one of their
little tinpot trains, and - I've spent fifty thousand a year here,
at least, for the last four years."
I was glad I was not his lawyer. I re-read the correspondence,
notably the letter which recommended him - almost tenderly, I
fancied - to build a fourteen-foot brick wall at the end of his
garden, and half-way through it a thought struck me which filled
me with pure joy.
The footman ushered in two men, frock-coated, grey-trousered,
smooth-shaven, heavy of speech and gait. It was nearly nine o'clock,
but they looked as newly come from a bath. I could not understand
why the elder and taller of the pair glanced at me as though we had
an understanding; nor why he shook hands with an unEnglish warmth.
"This simplifies the situation," he said in an undertone, and, as I
stared, he whispered to his companion: "I fear I shall be of very
little service at present. Perhaps Mr. Folsom had better talk over
the affair with Mr. Sargent."
"That is what I am here for," said Wilton.
The man of law smiled pleasantly, and said that he saw no reason
why the difficulty should not be arranged in two minutes' quiet
talk. His air, as he sat down opposite Wilton, was soothing to the
last degree, and his companion drew me up-stage. The mystery was
deepening, but I followed meekly, and heard Wilton say, with an
"I've had insomnia over this affair, Mr. Folsom. Let's settle it
one way or the other, for heaven's sake!"
"Ah! Has he suffered much from this lately?" said my man, with a
"I really can't say," I replied.
"Then I suppose you have only lately taken charge here?"
"I came this evening. I am not exactly in charge of anything."
"I see. Merely to observe the course of events in case - " He
" Exactly." Observation, after all, is my trade.
He coughed again slightly, and came to business.
"Now, - I am asking solely for information's sake, - do you find
the delusions persistent?"
"They are variable, then? That is distinctly curious, because - but
do I understand that the type of the delusion varies? For example,
Mr. Sargent believes that he can buy the Great Buchonian."
"Did he write you that?"
"He made the offer to the Company - on a half-sheet of note-paper.
Now, has he by chance gone to the other extreme, and believed that
he is in danger of becoming a pauper? The curious economy in the
use of a half-sheet of paper shows that some idea of that kind might
have flashed through his mind, and the two delusions can coexist,
but it is not common. As you must know, the delusion of vast wealth
- the folly of grandeurs, I believe our friends the French call it -
is, as a rule, persistent, to the exclusion of all others."
Then I heard Wilton's best English voice at the end of the study:
"My dear sir, I have explained twenty times already, I wanted to get
that scarab in time for dinner. Suppose you had left an important
legal document in the same way?"
"That touch of cunning is very significant," my fellow-practitioner
- since he insisted on it - muttered.
"I am very happy, of course, to meet you; but if you had only sent
your president down to dinner here, I could have settled the thing
in half a minute. Why, I could have bought the Buchonian from him
while your clerks were sending me this." Wilton dropped his hand
heavily on the blue-and-white correspondence, and the lawyer started.
"But, speaking frankly," the lawyer replied, "it is, if I may say
so, perfectly inconceivable, even in the case of the most important
legal documents, that any one should stop the three-forty express
- the Induna - Our Induna, my dear sir."
"Absolutely!" my companion echoed; then to me in a lower tone: "You
notice, again, the persistent delusion of wealth. I was called in
when he wrote us that. You can see it is utterly impossible for
the Company to continue to run their trains through the property of
a man who may at any moment fancy himself divinely commissioned to
stop all traffic. If he had only referred us to his lawyer - but,
naturally, that he would not do, under the circumstances. A pity
- a great pity. He is so young. By the way, it is curious, is it
not, to note the absolute conviction in the voice of those who are
similarly afflicted, - heart-rending, I might say, and the inability
to follow a chain of connected thought."
"I can't see what you want," Wilton was saying to the lawyer.
"It need not be more than fourteen feet high - a really desirable
structure, and it would be possible to grow pear trees on the sunny
side." The lawyer was speaking in an unprofessional voice. "There
are few things pleasanter than to watch, so to say, one's own vine
and fig tree in full bearing. Consider the profit and amusement you
would derive from it. If you could see your way to doing this, we
could arrange all the details with your lawyer, and it is possible
that the Company might bear some of the cost. I have put the matter,
I trust, in a nutshell. If you, my dear sir, will interest yourself
in building that wall, and will kindly give us the name of your
lawyers, I dare assure you that you will hear no more from the Great
"But why am I to disfigure my lawn with a new brick wall?"
"Grey flint is extremely picturesque."